I’m going to talk to you today about gateway drugs.
Well ... not “drugs drugs.” I’m in no mood to be that serious.
But as I trace the personal history of my music tastes, I see a little kid who was introduced to some great ’80s music (and probably some terrible ’80s music) because my brother, 10 years older, watched a lot of MTV when I was way too young to be watching MTV.
Like, seriously, I was five when I was watching Genesis’ “Land of Confusion.” That ain’t normal. I should be more warped than I am.
But fast forward a few years and I was all-country-all-the-time. My brother had totally converted, and that’s what my parents had been listening to all along. And as much as I appreciate the country music of the late ’80s and early ’90s, my views on music were pretty limited.
Then along came the gateway drugs. In the summer of 1995, I rediscovered MTV. I purchased Sheryl Crowe’s “Tuesday Night Music Club” and Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Cracked Rear View.” (And if you don’t think that Post Malone cover of “Only Wanna Be With You” sends me into a rage, you’ve got another thing coming. Also note that the link is to the original song's video.)
What truly opened the door, though, was a friend loaning me two CDs. (Remember CDs?) One was Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and the other was Pearl Jam’s “Vs.”
Sure, I was late to the party by the fall of 1995, but those albums rocked my world. I soon embarked on a music obsession that’s now 28 years long.
Anything I’ve listened to and over and over — from Blind Melon to Led Zeppelin to the Beatles and Stones to Gram Parsons, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Otis Redding, Wu Tang and even Miles Davis and Charles Mingus — somehow traces its way back to those two records — “Vs.” in particular.
So it was shocking and satisfying on Thursday to learn that “Vs.” was 30 years old. If you catch me in the right mood, I might claim “Vitalogy” or even “No Code” or “Yield” as my favorite PJ album, but “Vs.” is always right there, my favorite if only because it was my first.
(And for those of you screaming about “Ten,” I love their debut and best selling album. I just don’t think the boys had truly found the sound that I love just yet. It came soon after.)
First of all, this is the greatest Pearl Jam lineup to me, with all due respect to subsequent drummers Jack Irons and Matt Cameron.
The lineup of Eddie Vedder on vocals, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard on guitars, Jeff Ament on bass and Dave Abbruzzese on drums is absolutely killer. It was loud, angry, funky, soft when it needed to be. It was really freakin’ good.
It should also be noted that it was the first time the band collaborate with producer Brendan O’Brien, who was with them for my four favorite PJ albums.
There are some obvious high points of the band’s career on this album. “Daughter,” “Animal,” “Go” and “Dissident” were all released as singles, and a quick listen reveals why in each case. I don’t think the band — or perhaps the label — was yet prepared to show a softer side by releasing “Elderly Woman Behind the County in a Small Town,” but they righted that wrong years later by releasing a live version.
But these 30 years on (or 28 for me), I still don’t understand why “Rearviewmirror” never got more traction.
Opening with a blistering rhythm guitar sequence from Eddie (only a singer on the first album), it quickly builds to such a tight, full sound. Perhaps it’s three guitars that put it over the top, but the rhythm section is working overtime too — from the underappreciated Ament doing what he does to Abbruzzese with probably my favorite drum performance of PJ’s 32-year career.
If I correctly remember what I read in a bio of the band years ago, O’Brien pushed Abbruzzese to his limit recording this track. He wanted the drums on the closing section to be perfect.
The drums were set up not in a studio, but in a tiled bathroom for the sound that gave them. But on take after take after take, O’Brien wasn’t satisfied, having Dave do it again and again. When O’Brien finally confirmed that they had the right take, Abbruzzese allegedly put his hand through his snare drum, walk outside with it and threw it off a cliff.
Immature, to be sure. But that’s rock ‘n’ roll, baby!
What appealed to me so much about this song? There’s obviously the fullness and the tightness of the sound, though I doubt I could have put my finger on that as a 14-year-old.
There’s also the anger, and release, of the song. When you’re a teenage boy — or at least when I was a teenage boy — you’re angry and you don’t really understand why. So songs like “Rearviewmirror” or “Master of Puppets” or even “Protect Ya Neck” appeal to you even as you aren’t properly dealing with your emotions.
Listen to “Rearviewmirror.” Let it wash over you. Eddie has said it’s about being “in a car, leaving ... a bad situation.” I suppose we can all relate at some point in our lives.
Note that none of these songs from "Vs." have an official video. After the first album, the band stayed away from music videos for years. But these "visualizer" versions are kind of cool. Also, if you're the band responsible for "Jeremy" and "Do the Evolution," your music video legacy is assured.